COMPETE WITH COURAGE By Al McDonagh, Founder Captain Jacked
The soul of athletics really is about having courage. I’m not talking about “courage” as it relates to going into a war zone fighting for your life and the lives of those around you or courage to battle a very serious disease. In the context of athletic performance, courage is needed as to how you choose to compete and how you choose to better yourself.
In athletics, not everything is going to fall your way all the time. If you compete long enough and advance to higher levels of competition, you are going to find there will be times when you are outmatched, weaker, or less technically sound than the competition. Everyone will be in that situation. It happens to top caliber athletes as well as the average athlete—-it will happen to all athletes. If you do not think it will happen to you, well then, you better get ready to be disappointed A LOT.
One athlete’s “highlight moment” becomes a “lowlight” moment for another. How are you going to handle these situations? When it is a highlight moment, are you going to be so emotional it will appear as though you have never been in that position before? If it is a lowlight moment, are you going to pout, knock yourself down by using negative words to describe yourself or will you exhibit courage, leadership and mental toughness?
Do you think perennial All-Star professional basketball players are immune from having lowlight moments? Nope. It happens to everyone. Chris Paul, when he played with the L.A. Clippers, as he was trying to defend the Golden State Warriors Steph Curry (a former NBA League MVP) was dropped on his butt as Steph Curry drained a jump shot. (Steph Curry dumping Chris Paul).
After the game, Paul was asked about the move that left him, literally, on his ass. Paul’s response showed courage, leadership and mental toughness. Paul said if you play D hard enough and long enough you will get dropped, dunked on, crossed on. The response was not filled with frustration, anger or self-pity. The response was real.
Sometimes you get embarrassed, not by another’s performance, but by your own performance. How will you respond to this? Do you crawl into a hole and cry and dwell on what happened? In 1997, Kobe Bryant, against the Utah Jazz, shot 4 airballs in a 5-minute time span. (Bryant 4 air balls in 5 minutes). The Lakers lost the game and the series on Kobe’s last airball of the game. What did Kobe do? He didn’t cry about it. He didn’t make excuses. He admitted he missed those shots and when the team got back to L.A., he immediately went to the gym and shot the shit out of the basketball vowing that what happened in the Jazz game would never happen again. He took the failure and used that failure to ignite future success. Kobe showed courage, leadership and mental toughness.
In the 2000 Olympics, Anthony Ervin, as a 19-year-old, took the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle. After winning the gold medal, Ervin’s life hit rock bottom. He became homeless and attempted suicide. In 2016, as a 35-year-old athlete, Ervin came back and won the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle becoming the oldest individual in Olympic history to win an individual gold medal. (35-year old Anthony Irvin Wins Olympic Gold). This does not automatically happen. Ervin had to show mental toughness, courage and the ability to learn. Ervin has said, “I am always learning more, always wanting to add to the short-list of amazing wise ones that have taught me in this life. The Path of Knowledge continues, ever new.”
Your confidence comes from your preparation. Confidence is the result of preparation and preparation begins with forming a mental game plan. Learn to be a student of your game/sport. Be deliberate in how you are studying other athletes. What is your response to playing against great competition? Do you rise up or do you stand in the shadows?
The fear of failure is so big for so many. The way you think determines the way you feel and the way you feel dictates the way you act. The way you think, feel and act determines the way you train. How you think, feel, act, and train will determine how you perform when the time comes to step on the block, field, or court. Courage is not being afraid to fail and to be quite honest, how you eliminate the fear of failure is by failing.
If you want to compete with courage and not fear—you cannot be afraid of being embarrassed. If you play with fear, the result will be you will not play hard. You will be too worried about being embarrassed. If you are afraid of looking foolish, you will not try new things to expand your knowledge of your sport. You will simply continue to do what feels comfortable. If you are afraid of not being the best, you are not going to take the time to study athletes who are better than you. Put your pride aside, and study what they are doing in preparation for a game, for a meet, for practice. You are kidding yourself if you think all you have to do is study the “times” they are swimming or an opponent’s final stat-line. That is the result. You need to study the process. In the context of swimming, what did those athletes do in and out of the pool to achieve certain times? I bet you will find that whatever they did, they were focused, purpose driven, consistent and courageous. They did not allow distractions or naysayers to determine their “process”.
So, how do you know if you are courageous? When you walk into a gym or a pool that is not your home pool/gym and there are people there watching who normally would not be there, do you feel a pressure and a need to show them how good you are? If you constantly feel a need to show off how good you really are then you are not yet that courageous—you are still needing some external validation. Courage is within and when you know you are good you can act like you have been there before and you do not feel pressure to show off your skills because you know you have put in the work and you know that your passion has turned into perseverance, and with that perseverance, you have learned to prepare which in turn will give you the needed confidence in both highlight or lowlight moments.
You should commit to competing with more courage. If you commit to doing it and you follow through, you will learn a lot about yourself. You will develop skills that you can utilize in many other aspects of your life.
- Al McDonagh